The other day I had the occasion to speak with someone involved with U.S. diplomacy in Europe. He told me that when he goes to public events, there are two things that the foreigners want to ask him about America: Guns, and Donald Trump. It makes one long for the days when people associated the U.S. with Mickey Mouse and Coca-Cola, doesn't it?
The reality is that, overseas, both leaders and rank-and-file citizens view the alarming rise of Donald Trump in the GOP primaries much as Americans would view the ascendancy of a dangerous demagogue in a critical faraway: With puzzlement and alarm. And not just the liberal leaders one might predict, like Pope Francis, who has now famously crossed swords with The Donald; the list of critics includes conservatives like British prime minister David Cameron, who ripped Trump for his proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and said, "I think if he came to visit our country he'd unite us all against him." Trump's managed to get a member of the Saudi royal family to lash out on Twitter even as Israel's prime minister was issuing a public statement rejecting his Muslim "policy." And you don't want to know what our neighbor Mexico thinks about a Trump presidency.
A Republican nomination of Trump -- and, much more horrifically, his election as president in November -- would send a terrible message to the world community, to the constellation of nations with which we do business, form alliances, negotiate and occasionally joust. A message that America had once again embraced many of its worst demons -- racism, xenophobia, and the notion famously voiced by H. Rap Brown that "violence is as American as cherry pie." The notion of the United States as a beacon of freedom and human rights would suddenly be flickering more dimly than a streetlight in downtown Baghdad.
Of course, raising this point is a meaningless exercise when it comes to the millions of voters who are propelling Trump toward his date with world history. The fact that Trump provokes such a strong reaction in foreigners is merely more proof to Trump's backers that their hero would Make America Strong Again. Just as Trump's more outrageous statements are proof that he's the only politician who will "tell it like it is" -- even as fact-checkers ("Facts are stubborn things," Reagan tried to remind us) find that Trump repeatedly lies. Or that Trump -- who's endured four business bankruptcies and whose latter career has been built on blatant scams like Trump University -- will get things done because he's a brilliant businessman.
Trump is a product of -- and an exploiter -- of conditions he did not create: A government that increasingly served at the beck and call of wealthy interests and not the public, and a public that's been fed the soma-like high of mass entertainment for so long that some of our citizens can't distinguish our presidential elections from the latest reality show on Bravo. We should have seen his demagoguery coming...but we didn't. Now the only questions are: How bad is this, and how can it be stopped.
First...it's bad. With each passing day, Trump's campaign events head down a dark path, as if the fascist rallies of the 20th Century were now produced by Jerry Springer. At a Georgia university that was segregated before 1963, Trump had security eject 30 black students before his rally even began. A young black woman was shoved and attacked at a different Trump event in Louisville. In Orlando this weekend, Trump made sure that he directed the anger and jeering of the mob toward the press pit. "You are the most dishonest human beings on Earth," he bellowed, as the Founding Fathers who drafted the 1st Amendment surely spun in their graves. "You are disgusting, dishonest human beings." The irony is the media giants like CNN and MSNBC -- addicted to Trump-fueled ratings as if they were sugar-coated Oxycontin pills -- always make sure to broadcast this kind of decline-and-fall-of-the-Roman-empire spectacle.
The adoption of so many common characteristics with the fascist regimes of the last century -- the unbridled nationalism and the promise of restoring greatness, the toxic hatred of other races, religions and nationalities, the cult of violence that is enshrined at his rallies -- has led to the inevitable desire to attach a name or a specific precedent:
"The guy is Hitler. And by that I mean that we are being Germany in the 30s. Do you think they saw the shit coming?" [the entertainer] Louis C.K. writes of Donald Trump. "Hitler was just some hilarious and refreshing dude with a weird comb over who would say anything at all."
Others say Trump is too comical for Hitler and (hopefully) not genocidal -- that he's more like Itally's Benito Mussolini, and other have taken it down a notch further, that he's America's Silvio Berlusconi, a clownish billionaire preying on a weak political system. But truthfully, such comparisons probably aren't necessary.
Trump's sins are myriad and they are all over the map -- mocking a disabled reporter, alluding to his penis size in a nationally televised debate, and bringing the KKK back into our national conversation are literally just the first three that popped into my head. We've already seen more than enough of the short-fingered vulgarian and his demeanor to know that his presence in the Oval Office would be a disgrace to the very concept of America, to the people who fought to build this country and those who died to protect it, and to the international community.
How to stop him? In a democracy, you can't beat somebody with nobody. On the Republican side, the non-Trump candidates all represent various forms of conventional 21st Century conservatism, which would generally drag our country kicking and screaming back to the 19th Century. Even "the moderate one," Ohio Gov. John Kasich, took a break from campaigning to damage women's health by defunding Planned Parenthood. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has some good ideas -- a lot of the best ones borrowed/stolen from her primary opponent -- that are badly undercut by her long slow dance with Wall Street and other big-money donors. The guy with a few real ideas about helping the middle class seems to be written off.
We need to focus, America. The first half of this election has made it clear: Nothing is more important in 2016 than ensuring the defeat of Donald Trump. It's time for the Trump Resistance. The vast not-always-silent majority of Americans who don't want Trump representing us on the world stage need to commit ourselves -- I won't say "pledge," not after this appalling display over the weekend -- to use the tools of democracy to block the Manhattan billionaire from winning.
The biggest problem is that too much of the rhetoric has been directed at Trump's hard-core supporters. That's a waste of time; for 90 percent of these folks, nothing that the "dishonest, disgusting" news media could report, or nothing that a moderate let alone liberal-minded person could say, would change their hardening view of Trump as the field general of American restoration and slayer of political correctness. As one angry Massachusetts voter told the New York Times on Super Tuesday, "we're going to put somebody in there that basically you don't like."
I'm a strong believer in investigative reporting; there've been some outstanding pieces on the Trump University scam, the candidate's ties to unsavory characters, and his many other dirty dealings, and hopefully there'll be many more to come. But investigative reporting won't change many votes. I'm a strong believer in the power of protest. The demonstrations that have occurred at Trump's rallies so far have played an invaluable role in exposing the underbelly of violence and hate. It would be something to see tens of thousands march against his nomination in Cleveland -- but that won't the tip the election.
The Trump Resistance is much simpler than this. In December, half of all Americans said they'd be embarrassed to see Trump in the White House, and his unfavorable rating has been closer to 60 percent. Just like Trump's support, those numbers don't seem inclined to change much. Defeating Trump in November should be a slam dunk -- except for the problem that Americans aren't always so great at showing up at the polls.
This fall, if Trump indeed grabs the GOP nomination, Americans have the chance of a lifetime to stand up and be counted against racism, xenophobia, and hatred. It means turning the defeat of Donald Trump into a crusade, even more so than electing whomever his opponent turns out to be. That means talking to your family members, your friends or even going door-to-door on weekends in your neighborhood to make sure that America smashes its record for voter turnout on Nov. 8.
It's the 60 Percent Solution. It's the only way to stop Donald Trump. Not by rolling over his supporters, but by going around them at the ballot box -- a fitting reaffirmation of democracy. The crisis of Trump is also an opportunity -- an opportunity for the majority of American to prove to the world that we reject demagoguery, that we refuse to go down that dangerous road.
Defeating Trump at the ballot box is just the beginning of the work. The 45th president is going to have to address some of the conditions that helped make Trump possible, the job losses and income inequality that have shrunk and squeezed the middle class. If not, we could find ourselves going through this nightmare all over again, and once in a lifetime seems plenty.